EDGEWATER — Step aside, football. There's a new hit sport at Senn High School: Badminton.
The Senn Bulldogs were able to field a group of about 40 students this season, forming Chicago Public Schools' only neighborhood high school competitive girls badminton team, varsity coach Lucas Kelleher said.
A West Side charter school fields the only other competitive team in the district.
"We're a team to watch," the 25-year-old social studies teacher said at Monday's team practice. The season's toughest matchups will all be against established suburban teams, with the first against Wheeling High School on March 20.
"We already have a tough team to start off against," he said. "It's not like we're easing into the season."
Girls Badminton Varsity Coach Lucas Kelleher adjusts the grip of his team members at Senn High School. (DNAinfo/Benjamin Woodard)
But the Bulldogs are ready to take on the competition. Given Senn's international culture, many of the players have come from other countries where competitive badminton is more popular than in the United States, Kelleher said.
Team co-captain Rocio Rincon, 15, said she played in Spain before moving to Los Angeles, and then to Chicago last summer. She said she has her eyes on a trophy, despite some nervousness for the season to begin.
Rocio Rincon, 15, practices her swing at Senn High School. (DNAinfo/Benjamin Woodard)
"I'm hoping to go to state," she said. In the meantime, she said she plans "serve as a model" for her teammates. "It's really fun," she added after a few warm-up drills.
Captain Nicole Arberolos, 14, moved to Chicago 2½ years ago from the Philippines, where the racket-and-birdie sport is a favorite pastime.
Now she said she was feeling the pressure as the season is set to begin.
"I'm nervous," she added.
Another team captain, 15-year-old Khushali Kshirsagar, said she can't wait to play with her teammates after school every day.
"It's amazing," she said. "It's the only part I enjoy about school."
Principal Susan Lofton has held the helm at Senn, 5900 N. Glenwood Ave., the past few years, leading it through a big transformation, according to teachers and local politicians.
Lofton said Tuesday she never turns down students' new ideas for after-school activities. She even approved a Harry Potter-inspired Quidditch club during her tenure, she said.
So when Kelleher approached her with his plans for a badminton team, and more than 50 students showed up for tryouts, she showed her support.
"We are the badminton kings and queens over here," she said. "You’ve got kids coming from all walks of life who have no experience — they are having so much fun with it."
Badminton junior varsity coach Angela Kus, an English teacher and Senn's head wrestling coach, said the sport turned out to be more competitive than she imagined.
"My mental image of badminton is Victorian ladies at lawn parties with the big dresses and the parasol," she said. But the players "have a lot of raw talent. A few of them are really, really good. And it's more athletic than I thought it was."
Kelleher said the season won't be easy, but he and his players are ready.
"I've never worked so hard for something like this," he said.
The Bulldogs' first match at home will be at 5 p.m. March 27 against charter Golder College Prep, the only other competitive badminton team in CPS.
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